Disclaimer: Daria and associated characters are owned by MTV. This is fan fiction written for entertainment only. No money or other negotiable currency or goods have been exchanged.
Original characters and plot copyright Richard J. Lobinske. 2006.
This is the fifty-second story in the Falling into College series.
Girl: Lost and Found
Feeling a cool, wet nose under his chin, Michael slowly opened his eyes to see Bump standing on his chest, staring down. He turned to Daria, cuddled next to him under the comforter. "Wake up, I think somebody wants breakfast."
"Mmm?" Daria mumbled.
"Mowr." Bump nosed Daria's cheek to make her point.
Squinting to focus on the cat, Daria said, "Sorry, your Grace. We'll be with you in a moment."
"Keep it up, and you'll get dry food instead of flounder."
Bump squatted down and stretched, purring and rubbing her cheek and forehead against Daria's cheek.
"She doesn't fight fair," Michael said.
"No, she doesn't," Daria agreed, starting to pet the cat's back. "But I suppose it is a birthday of sorts; she hired me a year ago."
"Wow," Michael said, "That was a year ago? Hmm, ever thought of wearing that costume again?"
"Maybe later," Daria said with a slender smile.
"Meow!" Bump nudged Daria under her jaw.
Daria took her glasses from the nightstand and put them on. "Excuse us for sleeping in a little late."
Daria kissed Michael and said, "Give me a minute to appease the Lady of the Manor."
She reached down the side of the bed with a bare arm and brought up a dark red bathrobe. Daria pulled it under the comforter and slipped it on, disturbing Bump's place on the bed, forcing her to retreat to the foot and watch. Daria then dropped her feet over the side and slid them into warm slippers before coming out from under the warm bed cover. She stood and took a step to Bump, rubbing the cat's nose. "It's easy for you to be up on these mornings; you're already wearing a fur coat."
Michael leaned over to retrieve a pair of sweat pants and a pullover shirt from the floor. "One downside of an old place like this: there's no insulation to speak of."
Daria started walking to the door and Bump jumped down and closely followed. Daria looked back and said, "Like your place is any better?"
Staying under the comforter to put on his clothes, Michael said, "We don't have a coal chute next to the boiler."
"It hides the fuel oil fittings. Besides, it's a historical relic. You should appreciate things like that."
"Science has shown that their god will be around after a nuclear holocaust! Worshiping at the First Church of the Holy Roach! Next, on our 'What Will They Believe in Next?' special edition of Sick, Sad World!"
Looking at the scene on the television, Michael asked, "Doesn't that look like the steam pipe tunnels under Raft?"
"Beats me. How would you know?" Daria asked.
"When I was a freshman, some of us went down out of curiosity. A couple of the guys on the floor had heard that the 'Mother of all Roaches' lived there." He laughed, "I wonder how many 'steam tunnel' urban legends are floating around?"
Daria started counting with fingers. "Well, there's the role-playing gamers that have been lost for twenty years, the colony of alligators started from pets flushed down the toilets...don't ask me how they got from the sewers to the steam tunnels. Hmm, then there's the serial voyeur/rapist/killer that uses secret exits to attack women in the dorms..."
Joining in, Michael added, "Don't forget the eight-legged, wingless chickens the biotech lab accidentally released."
"Must be what the alligators and the gamers have been eating," Daria replied.
The front door popped open and Karen hurried in, dropping an overloaded backpack on the floor and pushing the door closed with her hip. "I'm back!"
Daria swiveled on the sofa and said, "Did Derek make it back, or is he buried in a shallow grave somewhere deep in the woods?"
"I let him live."
Karen opened the backpack and hunted around for a few seconds before taking out a mess kit and a bag of trash. Carrying them to the kitchen, she said, "I think it would be fun for all of us to go camping sometime."
"I wasn't happy about getting out of my warm bed here this morning, let alone in a tent in this weather," Daria said. "And the idea of 'eating what nature provides' is right out."
Karen tossed her trash in the bin and pulled the mess kit apart to put it in the dishwasher. "As Derek said, 'If God intended us to live off the land, he wouldn't have given us MREs.'"
"I thought they taught soldiers how to forage in the woods," Michael said.
Karen crossed back to the door to pick up her backpack. "They teach the Special Forces guys to eat stuff that would make Jane puke, but Derek's just as happy to eat something more civilized, and so am I. Speaking of Jane, it doesn't look like she's back from Vance yet."
"Nope," Daria said. "You know her; she'll probably roll in about midnight."
Talking from her room while unpacking, Karen said, "I don't know how she does it. If I stayed up that late, I'd be dead in the morning."
"Karen, you're up before six every morning; I don't know you do that."
"Growf," Jane sleepily mumbled over a large mug of coffee as she sat down.
Eating instant oatmeal, Daria said, "Good morning to you, too. Karen's already left for school."
"Mondays suck more than paint-by-numbers kits. Please, just shoot me."
"Forget it, Lane, you're not getting off that easy. And people used to call me the Misery Chick."
"Funny, Morgendorffer. Don't forget the 'teenage underground bummer culture.'"
"How could I ever forget?"
Resting the folder of papers on the briefcase on her lap, a pleasant brunette in comfortable traveling slacks and warm sweater said, "This just keeps getting better and better. I couldn't have asked for more. Published author, stood up to corruption at her old high school, part of a big, society-type wedding. Certainly doesn't sound like the person that unscrupulous hack, Val, described."
"This is your captain. We have started our descent to Logan International Airport and should be arriving at the gate at 8:55 AM, about fifty minutes from now. It is currently 39 degrees in Boston, 4 degrees Celsius, partly cloudy and with a light wind from the West. We hope you have enjoyed your flight," the aircraft pilot announced.
The woman placed the folder inside the briefcase and closed it before sliding it under the seat in front. "It's looking like the real story of 'D' is going to be a lot more interesting."
Walking next to Daria as they started a second circuit of the Raft's Quad, Wendy Anderson said, "We had fun the last time, didn't we?"
Daria said to the pale brunette, "Yes, but I also didn't have the same schedule that I have now. Between class, work and studying, I barely have time to keep up with Sick, Sad World and spend time with my boyfriend."
"Heh, if you didn't mention fitting him in somewhere, I'd worry."
"Is worry all you'd be interested in?" Daria said, to poke fun at her friend from theater class the year before.
"Is there something new I should know about you?" Wendy said with a wink. "Could make life interesting."
"No, just making sure we understand each other."
"Okay...just didn't want to miss any opportunities. But getting back to you auditioning for a play; maybe you could try out for a small part. Nothing big and you wouldn't have to hit as many rehearsals."
"Maybe when I don't have so much on my plate. On top of everything else, I'm still worried about Mom; learning to pay attention to what I eat is a pain in the ass, plus finding time to do this. Damn need to actually exercise."
"Exercise, you get used to it...or at least get used to hating it. How's your mom, anyway?"
"She's been able to take a couple steps with a walker during therapy and her arm is stronger. Mom's voice is still slow and it's starting to bug her, now that she's not so worried about getting up and around."
"With Mom relying on Dad, he's lost some of his cluelessness, as if he's found a purpose in life again. However, I wouldn't want to be in the kitchen while he's cooking. Mom says that he still a bit excitable on that subject."
Reading from a printed page, Daria sniffed the contents of a pot on the stove and then added a sprinkling of spices. "So far, so good."
Digging in the refrigerator, Karen asked, "Another one of Mrs. Fulton's recipes?"
"Yeah, this is spiced chicken and vegetables in tomato sauce."
"I'm glad the two of you are going along with my new diet."
Karen patted her hip. "I figure that it can't hurt, and if I lose a couple inches off my ass, so much the better."
"Well then, anything for a friend."
"Misery loves company."
"Yeah, we can call ourselves the Three Misery Chicks."
Hearing the doorbell, Karen said, "I'll get it; you're cooking and I think Jane's in the painting zone."
"Wouldn't be the first time. Thanks."
At the door, Karen found a brunette woman in her late twenties who said, "Hi, my name is Debbie Cawthon-Schellski. I'm looking for Daria Morgendorffer; is this the right place?"
"Yeah." Karen looked over her shoulder and yelled. "Daria! It's for you, somebody named Debbie."
Scratching her head, Daria stepped out of the kitchen, saying, "The only Debbie I know is in my Old English Lit class. Can't imagine why she'd be here." Reaching the door, Daria asked, "Do I know you?"
"No, you don't." Debbie held up a familiar old issue of Val magazine. "My name is Debbie, and I'm looking to do a follow-up story."
Daria frowned and started to close the door. "With the way Val made an ass of herself at my aunt's wedding, I'm not interested. Nobody was heartbroken when security escorted her out."
Karen said, "Didn't your aunt's new mother-in-law discreetly tell the security guard, "Don't hesitate to use a taser?"
"If you call using the PA system 'discreet.'"
Debbie chuckled and said, "I heard about that. Please tell me that the guards followed their instructions."
Karen said, "I think I did hear someone screaming."
"I hope so." Debbie opened the magazine to the old article and showed it to them. "Actually, I'm after the real story, not what my ex-boss wrote."
Karen stepped back and stared at Daria before breaking into a big grin. "You're 'D'!"
Daria's shoulders dropped. "You used to read that rag?"
Karen shrugged. "So I didn't have the best taste as a teenager, shoot me."
Jane came out of her room and asked, "What was that?"
Daria waved her head toward Jane. "Debbie, that's Agent J. You've already met Agent K. Now, can somebody please use a neuralizer on all of us so we can forget this ever happened?"
Debbie said, "Don't worry; I'm on your side. It's a little chilly out here on the landing. May I come in?"
Daria asked, "You said ex-boss, correct?"
"Yes. I used to work for Val, but I landed a new job six months ago, much to my relief."
Sitting in the living room and eating dinner with the others, Debbie explained, "I had to escape. Being immersed in teenage culture for too long can cause brain damage."
Jane said, "So that explains what happened to Val."
"I wouldn't doubt it," Debbie agreed. "I was hired as a staff writer and editor for West Coast Journal, gave my two week notice and was out of there. My husband's a computer junkie and picked up a new job less than a month after we moved to Seattle."
Karen faced Daria and feign scowled. "I've been living with a teen celebrity all this time. Anything else you're holding out on, Daria?"
Daria sighed and said, "Since you asked, I'm secretly the child of an obscure, eastern European monarch and some day soon, I'll be taken back to the castle to begin my formal training as Queen of the Gypsies."
Laughing, Debbie said, "That's the kind of humor I liked in your essay."
"Too bad it wasn't published," Daria complained.
"It completely went over Val's head, and when she got back from your visit...let's just say that she wasn't in a good mood."
"Come on Daria," Jane said, "you were proud of being labeled the antiteen."
"For opposing the shallow lifestyle Val represented, yes. But I guess I was annoyed that she never understood why I was different and that there were alternative views to her way of thinking."
"That's Val," Debbie said.
"I never could figure out how such a ditz managed to run a magazine," Daria said.
Debbie said, "Because Val's public persona is not what she's like in the office. She's smart, determined, and brutal when it comes to business. You don't create and publish your own magazine by being an airhead."
"Good point, but that still doesn't explain her behavior at Amy's wedding."
"Any press is good press in Val's eyes. She'll turn things around and write a story her way, just like she did when you didn't turn into a fawning sycophant."
"Maybe you should warn your aunt," Karen suggested.
"I don't know," Jane said. "If Amy calls in her mom and sisters...things could get ugly for Val."
Daria said, "So?"
Four years ago, Val presented D to the world as a bitter, dispirited loser who couldn't see how wonderful it was to be a teen and was destined for bitter obscurity. Hardly the words you'd use to describe Daria Morgendorffer, now a junior at Raft. Writing is what first brought her to the notice of Val, and that's what Daria has continued, recently celebrating the publication of her fifth short story.
"That's a good start," Debbie said, looking at the screen of her laptop as she sat cross-legged on the bed of her hotel room. She scanned through her notes and started typing again.
After a couple minutes, she stopped to answer her cell phone. "Hello...Hi, honey...I'm at the hotel, got in a couple minutes ago...Actually ate dinner with Ms. Morgendorffer and her roommates and had a nice conversation...I'm going to meet her again tomorrow afternoon where she works and interview people there. Oh yeah, Val gave the story a twist, and now I have the other side...Yes, I'm going through with it. She made my life hell for five years..."
"What?! She's where? That bitch!" Val screamed into the telephone. "I made her and I'll break her. I knew that skanky wannabe would do something like this when she left. Nobody leaves Val!"
After dramatically pausing, Val said, "I need a ticket to Boston, ASAP...Of course, first class...Then pay the airline double and tell them to bump some loser off of the flight! Oh, and send someone to my place to pack my bags."
Val set the phone on her desk and looked out of her office window at New York's morning skyline. "Nobody."
"Thank you, Dr. Findlay," Debbie said to Daria's boss the next afternoon. She turned off her tape recorder and stepped to the door.
"My pleasure," the professor replied as he escorted Debbie from the office. "Daria is one of our best employees."
Overhearing that, Daria leaned to the side and whispered to Shelly, "I'd hate to see how he treats his worst employees."
"He eats them," Shelly replied.
"With or without a nice Chianti?"
Outside Raft's Dunston Hall, Val stopped a gently round girl with brown hair and narrow, gold framed glasses. "Hi. Do you happen to know Daria Morgendorffer? I'm a reporter doing a story about her writing."
Jenn Cavendish said, "Yeah, we both lived on the third floor of Fenderson Hall as freshman."
"What kind of dorm resident was she? Quiet? Party girl?"
"Oh, we were all pretty tame; the third was officially a quiet floor."
Val sighed. "No wild parties, huh?"
"Well, we did throw a few birthday parties, including one for Daria. You know, cake and ice cream and soda, all the good stuff that's bad for you."
"She helped me out on some real tough homework assignments. She's really good at helping you understand stuff."
Val rubbed her temples and sighed.
Outside the Big Bean Burrito shop, a tall young man said to Val, "Daria? Yeah, she set me up with Jane, who set me up with CC and who set me up with Faith. I owe her one."
Val scratched her head, trying to follow Al Jakob's logic. She then asked, "So, um, anything else you'd like to add?"
"Well, we worked on a class project together once. She really has a good brain between the ears. Cute, too."
"Yeah, in that 'I don't have to show it off' kind of way. Michael's got a got a good thing going, dating her."
"So, she has a boyfriend?" Val said, surprised.
"Well, duh. Didn't I just say that?"
"What's his name?"
Carly Stanton leaned back on a bench near the Quad and said, "Yeah, I know her. Wish we could get her on at The Mast, but she has a cushy job over with the U-Press and has been published professionally anyway."
"You're a writer?"
"Journalism major. I moved up to the Campus News Editor of the school paper this year."
"So, Daria thinks she's too good for your school paper?"
"She's never said anything like that, but if I were in her shoes, I wouldn't blame her. What can we offer that's better than what she already has lined up?"
Val's lips formed a sickening grin. "Thank you."
Val nodded as she listened to a tall, handsome blond young man near the gymnasium say, "Yeah, I met her over the summer while dealing with Add-Drop. What a tease."
He struck an exaggerated pose, bracing his hands against the small of his back and bending, pushing his chest out. "Like a chick doing this isn't showing off?"
"I can sew clothes that will make anyone look hot," Isabelle bragged, lingering near the backstage door of the theater. "Even you."
Val scowled and coldly said, "I'm sure." Ready to take notes again, she asked, "What was that you said about Wendy?"
"Well, Daria's not used to really showing off, but hey, like I said, she looked damn good in that costume. Well, Wendy couldn't resist making a few comments, all in good fun."
"So...Wendy's a lesbian?"
"Red, white and blue."
"Is Wendy part of the theater department?"
"Do they still have contact with each other?"
"Wendy and Daria also meet before lunch every day to exercise."
"Oh, really?" Val said, raising one eyebrow.
Standing outside Founder's Hall, Ken belched loudly, causing Val to flinch away from his breath. He said, "Dumbass went back to her, too. Tried to warn him, but did he listen? Noooo."
"Sounds like you really don't care for Daria too much."
"Michael might have whined now and then about our dorm room, but once he started seeing her, it was like me, and the room, were the black plague or something. Just because the prissy little piece of ass doesn't care for a little disorder, it doesn't mean you treat your roommate like dirt."
"He wanted to whisk her off to Italy! I may not be Mr. Romantic..."
Val rolled her eyes.
Ken continued, "...but even I could see how cool moving to Europe would be. But no, she wanted to make her own decisions. Thought he was going to be a real man and tell her to stuff it, but nah, he folded like a house of cards in a week. Talk about whipped."
Val nodded and closed her notebook. "Thank you very much. You've been most helpful."
"Sure, any time."
Walking from a well-respected seafood restaurant along the harbor shore and holding Daria's hand, Michael said, "Thanks for picking up the tab."
Beside them, Debbie said, "You're welcome. That's what expense accounts are for."
"And we'll gladly take advantage of it," Daria said.
"I remember the Free Food Code very well."
"And a plus to working for a magazine I might consider." Daria then asked, "Will you be around campus tomorrow?"
Debbie shook her head. "I'm flying back to Seattle early. It looks like I have what I need for a good story."
"That makes this a pretty quick trip for you," Michael said.
"Deadlines. You learn to plan and work fast."
"And, that's a minus," Daria said.
"You take the good with the bad." Debbie waved as her path diverged toward her rental car. "Have a good night, and thanks; you've been wonderful to interview."
"Thanks. I'll look for the article."
Finally reaching the staff parking lot after fighting Boston's midday traffic, Daria found an empty spot and pulled into it before any of the other prowling cars. She turned off the car's engine before resting her head on the steering wheel. "Okay Morgendorffer, tell me again why I'm driving instead of taking the bus or the subway. The middle school isn't that far away."
After taking time to settle down, Daria reached to the passenger seat and grabbed her bookbag. "At least I only have to sit in on a class once a week. Not like next year when I do my teaching internship five days a week. Hopefully, I'll pull a high school and not a middle school." She pulled it after her as she exited the car, swinging it on in one motion as she locked and closed the door.
"Miss Daria Morgendorffer?"
Hearing the voice behind her, Daria turned to find two campus security officers. She said, "Yes, is there a problem?"
"Ma'am, we had several reports of a strange woman asking questions about you yesterday afternoon."
"Debbie? She was with me yesterday afternoon."
"The woman was described as blond haired, mid to late thirties and dressed like a teenager. Do you recognize her?"
The second officer said, "Someone said her face looked like it was put on too tight."
Daria dropped back against her car. "Val."
"What can she do?" Wendy asked as she walked with Daria. "Write about the college underground bummer culture? Like that's going to bother you."
"What bothers me is that she was asking questions around school secretly. When she visited my high school, she made sure everyone knew she was going to secretly be there."
"Come on, what would anyone say bad about you?"
"Well, during the show, Mandy was pretty jealous of how Len was eyeing me."
Wendy laughed, "And your sister. Hell, Mandy was jealous of anyone in the show with boobage."
"True. Besides, who do we know that reads crap like Val anymore?"
"Nobody whose opinion we give a damn about."
Seated at her work desk, Debbie stared at her computer monitor. "Can't we set the spam filter to cull the stupid forwarded crap that comes from within the network?"
She picked up her phone after it rang once. "Yes?"
The receptionist said, "Do you have time for a visitor?"
"Who is it?"
"Says her name is Val."
Debbie felt queasy and decided to get the unpleasant task over with. "Send her in."
Val waltzed into the office sporting a disturbingly friendly smile. "Hi Deb, how's Seattle treating you?"
"Val, what a surprise. I just got back in from a trip."
"So I hear," Val sweetly said. "Anything interesting?"
"Not really, just a couple interviews for a story."
"Uh-huh. How's Dar doing these days?"
Trying to keep her composure, Debbie asked, "What was that?"
Val smirked and said, "Hmm, I heard that she was too good to work for the school paper...quite a tease, to guys and gals...keeps a standing date with an open lesbian, and has her boyfriend completely wrapped around her finger."
Debbie sat frozen behind her desk, struggling to find words to say.
"Oh, don't look so shocked, Deb." Val leaned on the desk to place her face right in front of Debbie's. "All I had to do was ask around Raft a little. I wonder what I could find if I dig deeper? It might be interesting to pay a visit to her old hometown. Talk to Dar's mother again."
Debbie locked smoldering eyes on Val's as the anger rose inside.
"Cat got your tongue?" Whirling away to drop into a chair, Val added, "I told you to ditch that pesky conscience; it only gets in the way."
Rage finally coming through, Debbie said, "Your fight is with me. Why are you dragging that poor girl into it?"
"Me? My dear, you dragged Dar into this. I'm only using the tool you planned to use against me. Actually, only if I have a reason to use it." Val stood and walked to the door, pausing before opening it. "It's been great seeing you again, Deb. Have a nice day."
After Val quietly closed the door, Debbie dropped her head onto her folded arms. "Oh, damn."
"Daria, this is my fight, not yours, and I'm so sorry I got you involved," Debbie explained over the phone.
Listening on her cell phone while on a break from work, Daria said, "I'm not that worried about..."
"You're not worried now, but later, it might make a difference. Word gets around the publishing world and an early reputation for having a publisher out to get you will hurt your chances of selling stories. Yes, some might be interested in you just for that reason, but more will avoid you."
"I'm still willing..."
"...to have Val go to Lawndale and become a nuisance for your mother? She threatened to do that."
"Dammit! How in the hell did she outmaneuver us so badly?"
"Like I told you before, that blonde airhead persona is just a façade. Val built her magazine from scratch and she's ruthlessly held onto it. I thought I could get a jump on her and get the story in print before she found out. I'm sorry, but I was wrong."
"Someone must've tipped her off."
"She has lots of friends, or what passes for friends in her world. It wouldn't surprise me that somebody here was behind it."
"Debbie, this only makes me more determined."
"Are you sure?"
Helen sat in the living room and talked on the cordless phone. "Even though Val slanted the old story heavily, the presented facts were accurate, even you admit that."
"And I'm sure you've taken a few choice actions and made comments at Raft that didn't exactly make friends with everyone."
"So, unless she goes over the line and prints something that is factually untrue, and does so with clear malicious intent, you won't have any legal recourse."
"I understand. Mom, Val's also suggested that she might make a trip to Lawndale. After hearing about your stroke, Debbie was really worried."
"Sweetie..." The slowness of her own voice becoming irritating, Helen growled, "I'd love the opportunity to sink my teeth into somebody."
"Somehow, I think you'd enjoy that, Mom."
"I still haven't been back in a courtroom, and it's considered bad form to bite the other law partners."
"I can't believe Daria convinced me not to give up yet," Debbie said out loud as she leaned back in her desk chair, thinking. "Who could've told Val I was doing the story? My editor Jack knew, but he's certainly no friend of Val's. That leaves the receptionist Cheri and Bernice, who handles travel down in finance. My gut instinct says it's probably not Cheri, so I think I'll talk to Bernice."
She swiveled the chair to the right and rocked forward to step away in one smooth motion. Going past the receptionist, Debbie said, "Be back in a few," and walked down the hall toward the finance department. Once there, she nodded to a secretary and opened a door marked, "Travel."
Only one of the two desks inside was occupied. Debbie asked, "Is Bernice in today?"
The plump black woman at the desk grumbled, "Didn't you hear?"
"She up and quit earlier today. No notice, just, bam! Gone, leaving me to cover for her sorry ass until we get someone hired and trained."
"I'm sorry. Did she give a reason?"
"She said something about a better offer back east. I've known for a while that she wasn't happy here. I guess an opportunity came up and she took it. She could've at least given notice, though."
"Uh-huh, I'm sure. Thanks, Nina."
"Any time. Did you need something? I have your Boston paperwork here, somewhere."
"No...you've already told me what I need to know."
"Think you could trick that general into making an appearance again? He did a good job on Romonica and Claude," Jane suggested as she, Karen and Daria sat around the living room.
Daria said, "Not bad, but his magazine went under a year ago. He's probably out doing real mercenary work again. Oops, that should be private security contracting."
Half joking, Karen said, "Hey, maybe Mrs. Wyatt could buy Val's magazine and fire her."
Daria shook her head. "Nah, wouldn't work. Val owns 51% of the magazine's stock."
"So, you've already thought of it."
"It crossed my mind. But I'm relieved it won't be a temptation."
Jane said, "There's that conscience of yours again."
At the sound of the doorbell, Karen said, "No, she prefers another kind of temptation."
Standing and crossing the room to the door, Daria said, "For a country girl, you're really hooked on that show."
"Trust me; it's a lot more interesting than Sex in the Cornfield."
Daria grabbed her jacket and pulled it on as she opened the door. "Hi Michael, let's go. It's getting pretty deep in here."
He said, "Oh, sure. Any luck with the Val problem?"
Debbie's editor, a fortyish man with small, round glasses and black hair speckled with gray, stepped into her office and closed the door. "Debbie, I knew that there was bad blood between you and Val when you were hired, but things are getting ugly."
"I'm sorry, Jack," was all she could think to say.
"When the boss finds out that the magazine we were going to scoop ended up scooping us and hiring their spy away in the process, my ass is going to be on a platter."
"Damn, I screwed things up royally, didn't I?"
"No worse than I have."
"The story is still yours, and I'll run it if you feel strongly enough about it. But if things hit the fan, the boss is not going to cover for you."
"Meaning, it'll be my job."
"And possibly mine."
"You're taking a big risk."
"I trust my writers. If you think the story is worth it, we'll go. If not, we won't. The choice is yours."
"Good luck," he said, exiting and closing the door.
"Damn, damn, damn," Debbie forlornly said. "I feel like I'm only going deeper and deeper without getting anywhere."
A little later, nestled in Michael's cautious embrace while sitting on the sofa in his apartment, Daria listened to her cell phone. Debbie said, "As much as it makes me so mad I could scream, I can't go on with the story. It's not worth the risk to everyone I've gotten involved."
Daria answered, "So far, we've also come up short on how to get around Val. Too bad the old Roman habit of poisoning isn't still practiced," she said, more than slightly seriously.
Overhearing, Michael said, "It would be appropriate. Val sounds like a scheming matriarch from I Claudius."
"And regrettably, just as devious," Daria said.
Michael looked at the replica of the Roman XIXth Legion standard that Daria had given him. "Can I make a suggestion?"
"Um, I'm all ears." To the phone, she said, "Debbie, hold on a second."
Michael pointed his thumb at the standard. "You've heard me talk about the Lost Eagles of Varius and the Battle of Teutoburg Forest."
"Yeah, big disaster like this is turning into."
"Yep. Now, has your Old English Lit class covered anything about Ælfred the Great's retreat to the Somerset Moors before his reconquest of England from Guthrum?"
After hearing his explanation, Daria said to Debbie, "My history geek boyfriend just had an idea. Debbie, I agree that we've lost the battle. Let's not lose the war."
Debbie softly, and sadly, said, "I hate how Val manages to get away with this crap."
"That doesn't mean we can't prepare the groundwork for a comeback later."
Debbie perked up. "You have an idea?"
"As a matter of fact, I do."
Debbie read what she'd previously completed of the article and sighed. "That would've been a good story." She then closed her eyes and deleted the text. After a moment, she smiled and said to herself, "But without mentioning D, I think this one might be better."
On a recent trip to Boston, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of Ms. M. No, not the singer, but a college junior with a special outlook on life and plans for the future.
Thanks to Kristen Bealer, Ipswichfan and Mr. Orange for beta reading.